Lifelong Oakdale resident Will Taylor — also known as Willy Tea — lives and breathes music. He describes its importance and influence in his life, like a scuba diver might refer to their oxygen tank. Simply stated, music is what fuels the Oakdale High School alum.
“The first time I picked up a guitar I was four years old,” the musician explained, “and I played Home on the Range.
“I wanted to be a drummer, but we never had the money for drums.”
Taylor took up the harmonica and spent most of his teen years performing with his friends in a band.
“I sang and played harmonica a little bit,” he said.
At the age of 21, Taylor learned what he would give up for his love of music and his thirst to learn the craft. While living outside the Oakdale area, Taylor had spotted a mandolin in an antique store.
According to the musician, he was working as a dishwasher and had just received his first weekly paycheck of $74.50. The mandolin was $75.
“It was a mess,” he said of the instrument. “It didn’t have any strings, was stained with bird poop … but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
“I remember thinking ‘I wish I had fifty cents.’ Then I thought maybe I’d offer the guy $74.50 and he took it.”
He went on to share that while he may not have had much to eat that week, it didn’t matter … he had music. When his boss learned of his stringless instrument purchase, he bought him the strings.
“It started from there,” Taylor stated of his evolution as a musician. “It wasn’t until I was 21 and picked up that instrument and started writing music and I haven’t stopped since.”
During that period of his life, the musician spent his free time at the library reading books on how to play an instrument.
Taylor returned to Oakdale in 1997 and began a string of relationships with several well-known and successful area bands. For the past five years he has been a part of the popular Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit. The group stays busy playing and performing routinely at the Cow Track, area fundraisers or wherever they can book a gig.
“I sell CD’s and play music,” the handyman/musician said. “That’s what I do. I’ve kept music as my main focus. It’s very exhausting, but it’s all I know really, it’s all I care to know. My family are cattle ranchers, you know, and that’s sort of the same thing. It’s a part of you.”
As a handyman by trade, work has been slow for Taylor, so in late fall he made a visit to Valley Home School’s after school rec program. His son, Wiley Bull, is a student at the K-8 school.
Taylor spotted a group of students testing their skills at the popular game of Guitar Hero. As he watched the group battle through some classic songs, he had an idea.
Taylor approached Tom Cassinetto, director of the after school program, and asked if he thought the kids might like to learn to play a real instrument.
“I don’t know how to teach them music,” the musician shared, “but I can teach them how to write a song and put it to music.”
Cassinetto loved the idea and invited Taylor to come once a week to work with interested students. The school invested in some instruments and for one day a week Guitar Hero was put aside for the real thing.
“They wrote a song about Valley Home,” Taylor said.
In mid-December the 11 Valley Home students were invited to perform at the Remedy and Friends Christmas Program, hosted at Magnolia Elementary School. For many of the students it was the first time their parents had seen them perform.
“They didn’t want to get off the stage,” Taylor shared of the students’ reaction to the applause following their performance. “They were so into it. Having their parents see them perform, some of them said, ‘I had no idea they could do this.’ After the show, they said some of the most beautiful things.”
In a day and age when so many young people are not only wrapped up, but completely wrapped in technology, Taylor fears that talents may go untapped.
“There’s so much talent there,” he said, “and that’s just Valley Home School.
“If we don’t have music … that’s going to be a sad place.”
The students and their receptiveness to his teachings inspired Taylor to start an instrument donation program. Banjoes, guitars, trumpets and pianos, working or in need of repair — he’ll take them. The goal is to refurbish the instruments and then give them to a student who has an interest in or passion for playing.
While the musician admits to still navigating his way through the process, he does have a vision.
“My ultimate vision is to have a weekday every week at an after school program throughout Oakdale,” he said, hoping to make regular visits to all the district’s program sites. “I mean, I’m just one person, but it would be great. There are more people out there like me. It would be nice to have two or three people to help, so we could break it down by level.
“I want music to live and volunteering is a way to keep people going.”
Taylor went on to share that at a time when people are out of work and looking for something to occupy their time, volunteering is ideal.
“It’s better than sitting around and thinking what can you do,” he said.
And, he added, there are those that will benefit from the sharing of knowledge and talent.
“They’re so thirsty,” he said of the kids. “They don’t even know how thirsty they are until you show them.”
Taylor recognizes he is just an everyday guy with a passion for music. He does not have any formal training in teaching or musical studies. His education has come while on the road and living life with a love for his craft. His passion, however, is what the children respond to. His passion overshadows what he lacks in formal training.
“We need to get these kids to know, we haven’t forgotten you, we see you,” Taylor concluded.
To donate an instrument or offer assistance with repairing the donated items call Taylor at 838-8143 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.